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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Bad men can be great sportsmen

I'm reading Beyond A Boundary by CLR James, which is about growing up in Trinidad in the early part of the 20th century. His passion is cricket. He talks about a local called Matthew Bondman.
He was a young man already when I first remember him, medium height and size, and an awful character. He was generally dirty. He would not work. His eyes were fierce, his language was violent and his voice was loud. His lips curled back naturally and he intensified it by an almost perpetual snarl. My grandmother and my aunts detested him. But that is not why I remember Matthew. For ne'er-do-well, in fact vicious character that he was, Matthew had one saving grace--Matthew could bat. More than that, Matthew, so crude and vulgar in every aspect of his life, with a bat in his hand was all grace and style.

It's funny reading this in the same week the papers are full of the chaotic lives of prominent sportsmen. CLR James could cope with the idea of a man who was hopeless in every respect but one - happening to be a great athlete. We on the other hand, being softer and more superstitious, seem to believe that any man who has shown a great sporting talent should be at the very least capable when it comes to daily life, as if genius in one respect ought to spill over into bare competence elsewhere. Journalists, biographers, chat-show hosts and voice-over artists try to persuade us that virtue follows talent around. There's lots of evidence that it doesn't.